Monday, August 08, 2011

Cake or death?

Interesting item on this morning's Today programme, and on the BBC site, about the baptism of hundreds of Jewish children in Vienna in 1938, so that they could have baptism certificates which would help them get out of the Reich.

Not everyone is for it, which looking back does seem a little odd, but you do have to recall where these people are coming from. It is a sad fact that over the last 2000 years forced baptism has been offered as the only alternative to torture and death, both options very often carried out by the same people.

I would not say that this is the same thing. If I believed in any kind of God (and, oh look, I do) then to be worth believing in, he would be quite capable of looking into the heart of the lucky convert and knowing exactly what is going on. Anything else just reduces the baptism ceremony to the level of magic. "Sorry, mate, you've had the water treatment. You're now a Christian for ever and ever and ever, whether you like it or not, ha ha ha ha ha!"

Not everyone agrees with my enlightened insight, not even clever people like Jewish historian Professor David Cesarani of Royal Holloway, University of London, who
"... is appalled by what appears to him like a crass recruitment exercise of vulnerable people by a proselytising church.
"Any Christians who took advantage of the pressure on Jews to baptise them were doing just that. They were using leverage of the most terrible sort.[1]

"There were many other ways that members of the Christian clergy could have helped Jews - offering hiding places, false papers and other kinds of assistance.[2]"
[1] Well, yes and no, yes and no. If they were being expected to renounce their religion and their heritage for all time, else be shepherded into a waiting room from which the Gestapo could come and collect them, that would be one thing. If on the other hand the Revds Hugh Grimes and Fred Collard, who performed the ceremonies, knew that they were just doing this for show and had no expectation of the baptismees ever actually becoming Christian - so what? I repeat: this is not magic. God knows what's going on in your heart and that is what counts.

[2] Well, that may be so and it would make a great movie. Alternatively, for five minutes of your time and a bit of water, you get a Get Out of the Holocaust Free card. Why is that such a big deal? Let's see. Trickle of water on the head vs an expenses-paid sojourn to Auschwitz ... hmm, tough one. Let me think about it.

So with the hugest respect to Prof Ceserani, whilst humbling acknowledging and not in the least belittling the centuries of genuine Christian persecution of the Jewish people, I do have to say (as the ancients might have put it if they had Google Translate), transire ipse, te magnum crustum.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Memories of a godfather

The only thing that stops me being smug about having a godfather who was in the SAS is that I actually have two of them. Or had. Now down to one, Uncle P having died a couple of weeks ago.

I was at the thanksgiving service, though I hadn't seen him since (I think) I was a teenager. I was told by his second wife, who I'd never met at all, that he often said he could have been a better godfather. When I became a godfather myself I vowed I would stay in touch with the boys for as long as was possible and they wanted: to be fair, they're still boys (okay, young men) and staying in touch is quite easy as they tend to be, more or less, in the same place as their parents. And we have Facebook. Not when I was a lad, we didn't, and anyway, I honestly can't see my father or Uncle P embracing that particular technology. So it's quite possible he stayed in touch for just as long as a not particularly religious godfather could reasonably be expected to. He certainly came to my Confirmation.

Two things I learned about him that made me wish I had known him better. One is that he was at the famous Farnborough airshow where a plane crashed, killing 27 spectators, almost including him. Fortunately his military training had taught him to duck.

The other was when P and a friend were having a late night drink in P's flat and it became obvious from noises off that in the flat below a man was beating up a woman. P went downstairs, kicked the door in, and informed the man that he thoroughly disapproved and the lady was to be allowed to go home now. Which she did. The next day the man crept upstairs and tentatively asked if he could borrow a screwdriver.

In a film of his life, of course, kicking down the door would have just been the overture to some lavishly depicted surgical violence, and everyone would be cheering. Real life is so much better. Kicking in the door released P's aggression, and indicated the violence he could have unleashed if the man didn't stop. Against that kind of backdrop the implication of violence is so much more effective, and gentlemanly, and self-controlled; anyway, P had to continue with this guy as a neighbour.

Definitely my kind of godfather.